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Performance Improvement and Customer Satisfaction as a Focus of Public Service Reform: Trends and Challenges in Africa

PAQ, Vol. 25 No. 3, (2001)

As a reaction to the inherent weaknesses of over-arching approaches
to public service reform, attention is gradually shifting to the
construction of low- to medium-range models depicting conditions
under which otherwise rule-bound, change-resisting, and slow-moving
bureaucratic organizations might be transformed into entrepreneurial
and customer-oriented entities. This rests on the assumption that the
contemporary global shift toward liberalisation would do for the
evaluation of public goods what the interplay of supply and demand
forces in a free market does for the price of tradable goods.
Yet, the assumption of a free market for public goods is being
increasingly questioned. The “customer” concept, in particular, is perceived
by some scholars as either inapplicable to the government
setting or downright subversive of the democratic norm of accountability.
This article also identifies a number of factors that combine to
stand the market on its head and, by so doing, to frustrate the best laid
out customer service plans in government. Among these factors are the
prevailing “market culture,” the devaluation and/or distortion of basic
management information, and the asymmetrical relationship between
“supply” and “demand.”
At the same time, however, this article argues that, in the context of
Africa where democracy is still at a nascent stage, the “customer” focus
presents a credible response to concerns about political and public
accountability. Besides providing a few case studies in the performance
of service delivery systems and assessing efforts at launching customer
service initiatives as part of public-sector reform programmes, thisarticle examines some of the preconditions for the inauguration and
successful implementation of customer service programmes in the
African pubic service

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